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John Varty's ex tells of tiger attack

2012-03-30 08:10
gillian van houten
Bloemfontein – The young male tiger that attacked well-known South African conservationist and filmmaker John Varty, 61, only wanted to showcase his maleness, Varty's ex-wife and TV personality Gillian van Houten told reporters on Thursday.

Varty was mauled by Corbett, a 4-year-old Bengal tiger.

She described the incident as a freak accident.

Van Houten said her ex-husband was busy closing the gate between two camps after he and a television crew had shot footage of another tiger.

The two camps had gates next to each other.

'Show off his manliness'

At one stage Corbett pushed his paw through the gate and grabbed Varty. The male wanted to pull Varty into the camp and pinned him against the gate with such force that some of his ribs broke.

After Corbett trapped her ex-husband, the animal started biting him.

Members of the TV crew managed to scare off the tiger and rescue Varty.

"The tiger saw JV (as she called Varty) as a dominant male. The attack was just about one male challenging another male."

"Corbett is still young and is coming up with all kinds of tricks. He wanted to show off his manliness."

Van Houten said Corbett was calm and stable on Thursday.

"We won’t get rid of him."


Varty was recuperating in the high care unit of the Mediclinic in Bloemfontein after he spent about seven hours in the operating theatre on Wednesday night for the cleaning and stitching of his wounds.

General trauma surgeon Dr Vivian Simmons, who was treating Varty, said he had a serious injury to his chest, broken ribs as well as an injury to his left thigh.

"It could have been worse. We cleaned all the wounds and closed them up and I am satisfied with his progress."

Varty was on antibiotics to prevent infection.

Employees of Varty's tiger farm, Tiger Canyons, and members of a TV crew from Aquavisions Productions on Wednesday night sped with the injured Varty to Dr Du Toit Botha in Philippolis where he was stabilised and brought to Trompsburg.

ER24 paramedics from the Life-Rosepark hospital fetched him with an ambulance.

'He will overcome it'

Gauteng tiger handler John (The Tigerman) Wagenaar, who had been working with big cats for 20 years, said Varty was lucky to be alive as an attack by a big cat like a tiger was dangerous.

Wagenaar, who had also been attacked by a lion and a tiger, said a tiger could weigh up to 250kg and had dangerous claws and big teeth.

The attack could leave Varty physically and spiritually scarred and it may be difficult for him to once again go into the tiger camp. "I don't know how seriously Varty is injured but if he has a passion and loves what he does, he will overcome it."

Simmons said Varty should recover completely.

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